Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Turning Turpentine Into Wine

How One Artist Survived this Economy by Taking a Risk and Using His Talent

A good friend of mine (we’ll just call him Calem for now) and art lover from Phoenix, AZ is a full-time, self-employed artist. He sells his art in various galleries around Phoenix and competes regularly in local and regional competitions. However these days he tells me that people are not buying art as much as he would like and he has taken his art career in a new and exciting direction in order to maintain his lifestyle. Not only does a self-employed artist need to be darn good at painting, but he also needs to be able to weather the ups and downs of the economy. Also as Calem has shown us, the long-term artist must be able to step out of the studio and use his knowledge of painting, art, colors and design in different ways.

When I first met Calem, it was back in 2001 when I was visiting some friends of mine in Phoenix. We were out shopping; I spotted a gallery and made a dash in that direction. Inside I found a collection of his work on display. I asked the gallery attendant about the artist and she said that I should meet him myself and politely pointed in the direction of this gentleman who was hunched over a desk in the corner. We became quick friends and have kept in touch ever since. The sad thing is, Calem has fallen on some hard times since 2001 but despite his hesitation to spend less time in the Gallery, he has come out on top by taking his art skills in another direction.

Now I can’t wait to talk to Calem on the weekends to hear about his recent work in art conservation and restoration. Galleries handling art and museums need paintings to be cleaned and restored. Some ceramics, glass objects, and paper objects need special attention as well. Frames also need retouching now and then. So this is what Calem does for various galleries and museums. First he approached a local museum and asked if he could shadow their art restorer. This turned into an apprenticeship and eventually a full-time job. Each time we talk he tells me about some interesting place or gallery he has visited and another exciting show that I “must see”. He’s recently been involved with projects dealing with artists such as O’Keefe and Carmen L. Garza.

This is an inspiring and important story to share. Calem took lemons and made lemonade. Artists need not think that they can use their talents only by making and selling art. Other ideas for artists to make extra income are: photographing art, framing, or designing for furniture and interior galleries. I know someone who took one of her paintings into a furniture dealer in Columbia just to see if they would possibly offer to hang one or two of them for sale. These people ended-up hiring her as a furniture salesman! So the underlying theme here is that artists are naturally creative and can use their gifts to get ahead if they are willing to step outside the box. Moreover, this is a real lesson for everyone, not just artists.

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